iVentures: Power of a chance encounter

Have you ever had a chance encounter that turned into a pivotal move for your business? Maybe it was a quick chat at a party that didn’t seem to mean anything at the time—but months later, held out amazing possibilities. How did you decide to let it drop or follow it up?

In the spring of 2009, when I was director of Florida International University (FIU)’s Master of Science in Management Information Systems (MSMIS) program, I had that kind of conversation. I spent the spring semester at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as a visiting scholar at Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). At CISR I collaborated with their researchers on projects related to the management and use of information technology (IT) in complex organizations. Yes, what you’re reading is correct—this Caribbean girl successfully ventured into the cold Bostonian winter.

MIT Mentoring ServiceAfter one long day at work, I stopped at the local Legal Seafood restaurant, and sat at the bar to have dinner. An engaging gentleman seated near me struck up a lively conversation. As we chatted, I learned that he was Alec Dingee, co-founder of the MIT Venture Mentoring Service. I was fascinated with his stories and accomplishments, and with MIT’s success in mentoring ventures. I was especially interested in MIT’s commitment to mentoring other newly formed venture mentorship programs at universities throughout the world.

I filed that conversation away as one of many great memories of Boston, mildly interested in this successful program. Imagine my surprise when the following week our executive dean of the College of Business Administration, Joyce Elam, approached me with a great opportunity: to become director of the Pino Center for Global Entrepreneurship.

Staff of the business school with two members of the MIT Venture Mentoring Service
Staff of the business school with two members of the MIT Venture Mentoring Service (VMS), from left to right: Irma Becerra-Fernandez, Pino Center director; Monique Catoggio, director of advancement, alumni and corporate relations in the College of Business Administration; Michael Foster and Jerome Smith from VMS; Karyne Bury, marketing and events coordinator, Pino Center; and Lauren Suarez, assistant director, Pino Center

When I thought about the impact I might have in this position at FIU, I remembered the conversation I had with Dingee that evening at the bar. I began to think about bringing the lessons of MIT’s groundbreaking venture mentoring work to FIU, and I realized that the chance encounter could develop into something with enormous benefits for the entire university community.

I’ll tell you more about MIT’s visit to FIU in my next blog entry. But first, I wanted to share that story—because it’s an important lesson, and because it’s so universal. We all go to a restaurant or a bar, looking for a pleasant evening out, never knowing what will happen. When you have that conversation, how do you recognize a great opportunity, and how do you make that opportunity happen? How do you figure out what is worthwhile and what is best left at the party?

View all articles by Irma Becerra-Fernandez.

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